We didn’t need a big car. Our two little car seats didn’t take up much space, and the four of us could have fit into a midsize sedan. But when we checked out the car dealerships, we weren’t looking at ourselves as a new family with an infant and toddler. We had visions of the family we hoped to become someday, so we skipped over the practical smaller cars and beelined it for the deluxe-edition family trucksters.
As we wandered around the “big car” part of the lot, daydreams of baseball carpools and trips to the movies filled my mind. Maybe one day all the neighborhood kids would pile in and we’d go out for ice cream. To make room for all the family things we dreamed about, we bought a too-big SUV in the hope we would fill it up one day.
And fill it up, we did.
First, with baby wipes and activity pockets on the backs of headrests. Then, carpool booster seats, and eventually, sports equipment bags and backpacks filled with textbooks. The kids’ stuff claimed every bit of the interior, but what really filled the car were the memories. The sights, sounds, and lovely smells could tell the story of us as we grew from a couple with littles into a family of five with teens and tweens.
Speaking of smells: dirty diapers, day-old spilled milk and other unidentifiable child stench wafted through the three rows on far too many occasions. The days of that new-car smell were long gone and in its place were smells so bad, it’s a miracle there wasn’t more gagging. Sometimes it even took more than one car wash to make things livable again.
Over the years, food became a constant occupant. Once swearing we would never allow the children to eat in the car, our SUV turned into a sort of roving restaurant of last-minute meals. Drive-thru remnants littered the floorboards. Random bits of food hid under seats, probably for years. Had we ever been stranded in the wilderness, I bet we could have lived for a week on the spilled food in the car.
In later years, we even allowed things like red Gatorade because we figured the damage had already been done. How much worse could things get after children projectile vomited from the third row?
One day, someone shoved a plastic Gatorade cap into a small crevice between the seats and it never left that spot. The kids and their friends tried again and again to pry it loose, but it never budged, becoming a permanent fixture I grew strangely fond of for its added character.
But the memories that stand out the most are the sounds from the back seat. Choosing a radio station started many screaming matches, but someone was always singing. Often it was me, to the kids’ great embarrassment. Sometimes I caught myself singing along to kid CDs, even when I was alone in the car.
No one ever used their inside voice (I swear, 6-year-old girls can hit 100 decibels). But there were also sweet sounds. In between arguments over the front seat and the incessant chorus of “Hey mom, look at this!” while trying to drive, I caught rare moments of siblings sharing secrets and laughter, making the usual cacophony worthwhile.
Our beloved SUV took care of our family for nearly 10 years. It trekked us across the country for beach trips in Florida and drove overnight for Thanksgivings at the grandparents’ house. It shuttled overflowing carpools of kids to sports practices and games, and delivered children to more play dates and birthday parties than I can even count.
Eventually, the odometer read 125,630 miles and the warning lights lit up the dashboard like a Christmas tree. It had been through a couple of alternators (I still have no clue what that is), several stays in the body shop, and even a new engine. Our beloved SUV had lived its ninth life, and as much as I hated to admit it, it was time to get a new car. Only saying goodbye felt like losing part of the family.
Now that I have a shiny new car that hasn’t suffered any dents or permanent stains, I’m starting to wonder how I ever survived without a back-up camera. But it’s also a reminder of what we lost. We said goodbye to much more than just an old car that day; it was a farewell to our years as parents of little kids. These days I drive around creating new memories of older kid stuff that we are just beginning to experience. In a few years, we will drive this car to drop off our oldest at college.
Sometimes I think about our old SUV’s new owners and the memories being made with their family. I’m curious whether they have babies or older kids. I wonder where their journeys take them. And I still think about that Gatorade cap forever wedged into the seat; I hope the new family loves it as much as we did.